Working with Honko these three months I have had ample opportunity to see how they operate. I came here with a lot of expectations based on not very much, and have long since forgotten them in the face of the reality here. Honko is a small, Belgian based, NGO. They operate on a skeleton staff supplemented somewhat by volunteers, but flushed out mostly by locals. With limited funds Honko must carefully consider all projects, and are constantly looking for ways to economize, not just for themselves but largely for the local people. For while many ideas maybe grand, they fail to consider the realities of the situation here. Madagascar is an extremely poor country, and the rural population is especially bad off. The villages around Honko get by mostly by subsistence living, with some limited economic ventures. This life style however is totally unsustainable, wreaking havoc on the habitat.
This is a problem which Honko has had to tackle, and continues to struggle with today. While the environmental work maybe the end goal, the social side of the issue ends up being a question of greater importance. Because you cannot convince people to stop fishing with indiscriminant nets, or chopping down vast swaths of mangrove forest, if those things are the only thing keeping them from the edge of starvation. Honko has managed to make great progress at this by setting up an ecotourism industry, thus necessitating a preservation of the habitat. They also hire locals to collect and plant propagules. Thus killing two birds with one stone, Honko has managed to create work while restoring the mangroves. Honko has also managed to create a more profitable and sustainable use of the reeds which grow around the outskirts of the mangrove forest. By creating an organization, run by the local women, who weave the reeds into a variety of commodities including plates, baskets, wallets, and more.
But there are challenges in this kind of work and Honko has suffered its stumbles. Not long after its inception, Honko began work on an alternative fuel project, to provide a substitute to the wide spread and highly destructive burning of mangrove forests for charcoal. This project got as far as the construction of a large concrete structure for the conversion of human waste into biofuel before reaching an impassable obstacle. No Malagasy person would handle human waste, it’s a strong Taboo. So after a large commitment of time and resources, this project came to nothing. A crab farming project was attempted in the mangroves, but it quickly became clear that the crabs would not develop and reproduce in the limited confines. A Tilapia project continues to this day, but bandits, typhoons, improper care, and problems with the fish’s health and development having constantly plagued the project.
But Honko has persevered, primarily due to the hard work and dedication shown by all those involved. All staff and volunteers show a passion for their work which is to be admired. At any time one is likely to find one or more volunteers actively engaged in coming up with alternative sources of income for the locals, or some new way to better utilize or economize the harvests from the mangroves. With the staff on standby to offer advice, answer questions, and help pursue lines of inquiry, and locals to help with any work necessary. In this highly supportive atmosphere, anything seems within the realm of possibility. So for all those reading this keep your eyes on Honko, and don’t be surprised by the great things which will come.